Robots have been essential for keeping industrial manufacturing in Europe. Most factories have large numbers of robots in a fixed setup and few programs that produce the exact same product hundreds of thousands times. The only common interaction between the robot and the human worker has become the so-called “emergency stop button”. As a result, re-programming robots for new or personalized products has become a key bottleneck for keeping manufacturing jobs in Europe. The core requirement to date has been the production in large numbers or at a high price. Robot-based small series production requires a major breakthrough in robotics: the development of a new class of semi-autonomous robots that can decrease this cost substantially. Such robots need to be aware of the human worker, alleviating him from the monotonous repetitive tasks while keeping him in the loop where his intelligence makes a substantial difference.
In this project, we pursue this breakthrough by developing a semi-autonomous robot assistant that acts as a third hand of a human worker. It will be straightforward to instruct even by an untrained layman worker, allow for efficient knowledge transfer between tasks and enable a effective collaboration between a human worker with a robot third hand. The main contributions of this project will be the scientific principles of semi-autonomous human-robot collaboration, a new semi-autonomous robotic system that is able to: i) learn cooperative tasks from demonstration; ii) learn from instruction; and iii) transfer knowledge between tasks and environments.